Criminalizing Educational Access
(New York Times) — The tale outlined outside court by the defendant’s supporters had a heartbreaking story line — a child tossed out of school, a homeless mother charged with felony theft for the crime of sending him to a better school than the one available to her, the inequalities that define America’s schools. But despite the torrent of angry calls and e-mails that have flooded Norwalk’s City Hall and school district as a result of the recent publicity, the case of the mother, Tanya McDowell, got only murkier on Wednesday as she pleaded not guilty to first-degree larceny and conspiracy charges stemming from accusations that she illegally sent her child to a suburban Norwalk school when he really lived in urban Bridgeport. Ms. McDowell’s story has become something of a cause célèbre since her arrest two weeks ago; education and civil rights advocates on Wednesday harshly criticized the charges against her. Others claim the child was summarily booted out of his elementary school in an affluent neighborhood. Yet the larger issue of access to equal education is in danger of being blurred by the far more complicated matter of just what happened to Ms. McDowell and her son, Andrew Justin Patches, a kindergartner.